SPANZ Commemorative Flight and Reunion Tour:

Dec 8-14, 2000

ZK-AWP was the first to arrive.

Three DC-3 aircraft toured New Zealand for a week in December to commemorate the beginning of services by South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand (SPANZ) forty years earlier. The tour was organised by well known aviation historian and author Richard Waugh, with the support of a national committee as a 'Millenium' event. Advertising was picked up internationally by Airline magazine editor John Wegg. and attracted a number of participants from the United Kingdom and United States. Approximately 100 people, including 12 crew flew in the DC-3 fleet and its Cessna 421 support aircraft. The route took the aircraft from Auckland via Hamilton, Taupo, Napier, Masterton, Christchurch, Timaru, Oamaru, Alexandra, Queenstown, Hokitika, Nelson and New Plymouth, before returning to Auckland.

I was fortunate to catch up with the aircraft during their first stop in Hamilton on December 8th. It was an unusual feeling to stand on the apron waiting for the sound of DC-3 airliners. Scheduled services by these aircraft ceased in 1974 when NZ NAC retired the last of their fleet, leaving only freight and charter work in the intervening years. Although a fleet of three freighter aircraft operated in Wellington until the early 1990's, this was the first time I had seen more than two DC-3s in action. It was also somewhat ironic on an occassion commemorating SPANZ to see ZK-AWP as the first aircraft to arrive. Newly overhauled and once again in the colours of its former operator NZ NAC, this aircraft was a competitor of SPANZ.

ZK-AWP taxying on the apron.

Ardmore based ZK-DAK was followed by Christchurched based ZK-AMS. The propellers are still turning on AMS as she lines up with the other two on the apron.

The three aircraft had flown at approximately 800' AGL, allowing the passengers a superb view of the Waikato countryside. As the aircraft taxied in they afforded the waiting crowd an equally superb view, as they attracted considerable attention.
ZK-DAK and ZK-AMS were parked alongside ZK-AWP, providing a rare photo opportunity. My excitement at seeing the lineup was tinged by the sadness that such an event is unlikely to be repeated in this country. A number of people (including myself) then took the opportunity to walk amongst the aircraft. I noted some staff from nearby Pacific Aerospace amongst them. I also noted a lot of film and video tape being used! I took the opportunity to walk around ZK-AWP and get some pictures of the NAC paint scheme which is seldom seen today. (Only ZK-BQK at MoTaT also wears the markings).
A rarely seen lineup, at Hamilton.

ZK-AWP was fresh out of overhaul, and back in her former NAC colours as shown by this quick walkaround. Things are confused a little by the SPANZ tour markings, which are removable decals applied over the top.

SPANZ operated from December 1960 to February 1966, providing services on a range of routes nationwide. Formed by ex-NAC Captains Rex Daniell and Bob Anderson, the airline had a wide provincial support base - reflected in the take up of shares when the company was floated. The airline operated three of its own aircraft; ZK-BYD 'Ernest Rutherford' (c/n 13906); ZK-BYE 'Jean Batten' (c/n13529); and ZK-CAW 'George Bolt' (c/n 18293), all 'viewmaster' aircraft converted by major shareholder Ansett Transport Industries of Australia. In addition the airline leased several aircraft including G-AMKE (c/n 14483/25928) and several NAC aircraft. The airline introduced a number of innovations to what had previously been a spartan operating environment (viewmaster windows, in flight catering, economy fares, and educational charters) as well as opening routes to previously unsupported centres (like Taupo, Masterton, and Gore). However, the economic, political, and regulatory environment put harsh constraints on an airline which like many in the industry was undercapitilised. The receivers were eventually called in, and the airline made its last commercial flight on February 28, 1966.

Christchurch based ZK-AMS
is known to operators Pionair
as 'Dulcie'.

The demise of the airline was mourned by many, and not just amongst the former staff. The airline is well remembered, and served as incentive for others to try when the airline industry in New Zealand was deregulated in the 1980's.

When Richard Waugh proposed the commemorative tour, a great deal of support was forthcoming. The final plan involved visits to a number of provincial centres on the former SPANZ routes, many of which had provided strong support to the fledgling airline 40 years ago. As noted above the intended itinerary was Auckland to Hamilton, Taupo, Napier, Masterton, Christchurch, Timaru, Oamaru, Gore, Alexandra, Queenstown, Wanaka, Hokitika, Nelson and New Plymouth, and back to Auckland. The only diversion being away from Gore due to unsuitable weather
At each of the stops there was some kind of formal reception. The pictures below show the first of these, where Hamilton Mayor Russ Rimmington provided a reception in the terminal of Hamilton Internation Airport. Speeches by Rex Daniell, Mayor Russ Rimmington, and Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton were accompanied by a buffet. Others involved similar ceremonies to a greater or lesser degree. Masterton put on a brief aerial display, Timaru had an honour guard and piper, and Alexandra provided a band. And the people turned out. Estimates put the crowd in Masterton at 1500, while 2000 were present at Timaru. At each stop there was also the opportunity to catch up with former SPANZ staff who lived locally, or who had travelled in for the occasion, swapping stories and sharing memories..

ZK-AMS showing the doors to the
passenger and baggage compartments.

Formalities inside the terminal - Rex Daniells addresses the crowd.

The crew at work!

A range of activities was available to the travellers. Visits to museums, wineries, and other sight-seeing was interspersed with vintage car rides and steam excursions, and even a visit to a penguin colony. Not surprisingly, many of the activities were aviation releated. Visits included the RNZAF Museum, Pearce Memorial, and the de Havilland restoration facility at Mandeville. While locals grabbed the chance to go for a flight in the visiting DC-3 aircraft, options open to the tourists included DH83 Fox Moth and DH90 Dragonfly flights from Mandeville, P-51 and Pitts Special flights from Wanaka, Catalina flights off Lake Taupo, and DH84 Dragon and DH-94 Moth Minor. Jules Tapper took a party aboard DH-89 Dominie ZK-AKY into Milford sound - the first visit by the type (which was once a common sight there) in quite some years. The final function of the tour was a Christmas re-union party held in Auckland on December 16th.

Peter Layne

In association with the tour Richard Waugh and co-author Peter Layne (seen at left) produced a social history of SPANZ, which was published to coincide with the tour. Richard is a well known aviation historian, having produced produced four previous New Zealand airline histories. Peter is also well published through magazines and the Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand. The 150 page book (ISBN 0-473-07183-5) details the development and events during the airline's operations, as well as presenting anecdotes from the day to day operations - giving a fascinating view of the life of the airline. Copiously illustrated (b&w and colour), and with useful appendicies including biographies of the airlines aircraft, plus bibliography and index; the book is a useful addition to New Zealand aviation history, and to be recommended.

Reactions to the tour seem to have been universally one of popular approval. Organiser Richard Waugh described the event as 'a very happy jolly time'. His co-author Peter Layne said the tour was 'a resounding success. The flying, weather, friendship, organisation is a credit to all those who spent two years putting it together'. Graeme MacConnell, the area organisor for Nelson summed up, saying he thought the experience was 'just magic'!

ZK-ZAQ parked during the
Hamilton stopover.

After several hours on the ground, and only a little later than planned, the fleet departed for its next stop - Taupo. First away was Cessna 421C ZK-ZAQ. This was the 'admin' aircraft, carrying organisor Richard Waugh. Supplied by Rotorua based Volcanic Air Safaris, the aircraft carried the same SPANZ markings as the rest of the fleet.

Then we had the pleasure of watching the fleet of DC-3s again spring into life.

The 'admin' aircraft departs
ahead of the fleet.

ZK-AWP was the first DC-3 from the fleet to arrive, and the first to depart.

The DC-3 aircraft departed in the same order they arrived. Initially it had been proposed that the aircraft do a stream takeoff, but after some debate it was decided that there may not be sufficient space for all three aircraft on the turnaround at the end of the runway. So the aircraft taxied out one by one. ZK-AWP was first up, then ZK-AMS, then ZK-DAK. The aircraft made a wide circuit around the airport, then joined up overhead. I was told that ZK-DAK seemed to have a speed advantage over the other two, and this could be seen as it joined astern of its companions. The aircraft then departed to the southwest, bound for a lunch date in Taupo. Those of us left behind listened to the dulcet tones of multiple Pratt and Whitney 1830's as they faded into the distance, and thought about the implications as this event faded into our aviation history.

ZK-AMS was second away.

Ardmore based ZK-DAK, the fastest of the fleet, was the last to depart.

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